I is for integrity

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Definition 1: The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles

This blog has been a long while in the making – originally as a result of someone I know having to do something difficult in order to protect a child. It had to wait though – I needed to let the dust settle so that perhaps people wouldn’t add two and two together and get four. Not my battle to pick, so I needed to tread carefully.

Fast forward, and today I switched on my laptop, logged into Facebook and saw that someone had reacted to a post I’d shared back in November. This was a birthday message for my Auntie who, by a neat coincidence, is probably the embodiment of integrity. My post commented on the fact that it was she who told me that my mum’s cancer was terminal, and prepared me for what was to come. It also said that it was my aunt who enabled my mum’s lost son to get in touch with her again, so that she could see the man he had become.

The person who reacted to my post today is my half-brother’s adopted sister (my cousin, I guess). We’re not facebook friends, however since she’s friends with my aunt on Facebook, she can see, react to and comment on the post. She has chosen to hit the ‘angry’ button, although obviously I don’t know why, and there could be many reasons.

My first reaction was one of puzzled anger: what does she have to be angry for? What (or who) is she angry at? That I have publicly talked about this elephant in the room that for so many years wasn’t acknowledged let alone talked about? That our grandparents visited this monstrous situation on us all, and caused so much pain?  I really wanted to go and comment on the status, but I’m not sure what that would solve, and if she’s angry at my mentioning it on Facebook, then I don’t want to be responsible for unleashing an argument over my aunt’s head.

So. I hope I’ve acted with integrity. Least said, soonest mended. Don’t make things worse, don’t make a show of yourself, don’t rock the boat. Deny your feelings so that those of others can be protected.

Definition 2: The state of being whole and undivided

Yet the pain and anxiety this little action has caused me probably reveals more about my feelings than it does about hers. I have long since reconciled myself to the events surrounding meeting my half-brother, accepting him into my life and then ultimately losing him again. Things were done and said that have taken a lifetime’s reflection to come to terms with and accept.

Yet someone hitting the ‘angry’ button on Facebook has brought back the sense of injustice, outrage and horror at what my mum went through. The pain makes me want to lash out, but I know this won’t make me whole and undivided. Perhaps some things are best left well alone, and I hope that my sense of integrity will help me to leave this, walk away and silently pay homage to my mum’s ability to make peace with the world and her religion, and forgive the extreme punishment meted out to her.

Mum paid a high price for her mistakes, but perhaps now it needs to be laid to rest so that we can get on with the rest of our lives. So instead, I’ve written this blogpost. If you know me, I’d be happy to talk about this, but I won’t be sharing this post or publicising it.

What’s the most passive aggressive act: hitting the ‘angry’ button but not communicating with the person to tell them why you’re angry, or writing a blogpost about it but not talking to the person who has provoked the reaction.

I’m not sure either of those actions are the mark of a person acting with integrity.

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H is for hypnotherapy

Ever tried hypnotherapy?

It is touted as a therapy for many issues: from quitting smoking to losing weight to dealing with deeply buried trauma, and it seems that hypnotherapy is rapidly moving away from the ‘eat this onion that you’ll think is an apple and it will taste delicious until you wake up’ kind of stage show that many people visualise when the H word is mentioned.

I once knew a man with a smoking habit he was desperate to give up. He’d tried everything, with little success until someone suggested hypnotherapy. And guess what, dear reader? Yes, after one session he threw his packet of cigarettes away and never looked back. No cravings, no withdrawal symptoms: he just didn’t need to smoke anymore because the hypnotherapy had changed his view of smoking and had enabled him to decide cigarettes had no place in his life. OK, so maybe it wasn’t that straightforward, but you get the idea.

Some people swear by hypnotherapy as a way of dealing with over eating, when all manner of diets have failed. It is as if the therapy has re-programmed their brain to see things differently: to give them the ability to say ‘no’ to the kinds of foods that are not conducive to good health and to maintaining a healthy weight.

One theory goes that everything that ever happened in your life exists as a memory but is held unconsciously – otherwise your brain would be full of the minutiae of life that it wouldn’t be able to function. We remember what we need to, but we ‘forget’ that which we don’t need to hold consciously. Although why I need to remember my ex-husband’s birthday given that I haven’t seen him for nearly thirty years, when I can’t remember where I put my keys half an hour ago, I’ll never know. According to this theory, what hypnotherapy does is enable you to access those memories, no matter how well buried they are either by dint of effort in order to forget something horrible, or simply by the passage of time.

Obviously this is difficult (or even nigh impossible) to prove – another theory suggests that our brains remember what is recent, important or useful. Eventually, what we don’t actually need to remember is forgotten – perhaps until we smell a particular aroma or hear a song on the radio, and then our brains do that amazing thing with its internal filing cabinets and presents you with a memory long forgotten.

Of course it isn’t without its controversies. There have been claims that hypnotherapists have introduced ideas and thoughts into a person’s mind, and presented these as facts. After all, if a stage hypnotist can make a person believe an onion is an apple, why shouldn’t they also make a person believe that they were horribly abused as a child?

The relationship between client and therapist is based first and foremost on trust. You have to have complete faith in the person who is seeking to help you make sense of your experiences, and to move forward in your life able to manage the complex emotions and feelings that have resulted from those experiences.

In the past I have found hypnotherapy a very useful way of dealing with the considerable emotional baggage I insist on carrying around with me – my hypnotherapist was able to help me see that my responses to what has happened to me are entirely reasonable and normal. During our sessions, she enabled me to ‘go back’ to key points in my life, experience what happened then, feel the emotions I felt then, always with the ability to retreat to my ‘safe place’ when things got a bit rough. The ‘safe place’ was a somewhere I designed myself: by picturing a location where I felt comfortable and happy. Every session would end with a spell here: allowing the sun to shine on my insecurities and fears and dissipate them before I would go on my way to reflect on what had been revealed.

The crucial thing here is the kinds of questions she asked during our sessions: she was very careful not to lead me by asking questions that promoted a particular outcome. By asking me to describe what I was feeling, seeing and hearing she enabled me to explore my memories as if they were happening in the present: I felt safe and in control and I was always able to let her know when I wanted to retreat. It would be very easy for a hypnotherapist to ask a client ‘where did he touch you?’ or ‘how many times did she hit you?’ but very loose, open questions enable the client to be in control of what they remember, according to their agenda rather than the therapist’s. As I say, trust is the key, and for someone like me who uses the maintenance of control as a way of keeping myself emotionally safe, this was a key aspect of our relationship.

Being hypnotised is a very strange feeling, and one that can take some getting used to. Whilst I was fully awake and in the present, I felt the emotions and physical sensations as though I was in the past. So for example I could feel the carpet under my bare feet as I remembered going upstairs to my bedroom, could smell the newly mown grass, and feel the smooth texture of my bedroom wallpaper beneath my fingers, complete with the tiny overlaps between edges of the paper.

Knowing when the therapy cycle is at an end can be difficult, however in my case, this was driven by me to a certain extent and when the time came I knew it was the right moment for me to end the sessions and walk away. For me hypnotherapy wasn’t a ‘cure’ – it was just a way of understanding and coming to terms with my experiences, and recognising the impact these experiences have had on my development, and how they impact on my self-concept, my core beliefs and why I react in certain ways to situations in my adult life.

One thing that is important to acknowledge is that all hypnotherapy was doing was helping me to remember. These were my memories: as reliable or unreliable as any other, including where I left my keys or my ex-husband’s birthday. It is no guarantee that these events ever happened, at least not in the way that I remember them. As those most eloquent songsters Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams said in their song ‘Shame’ – “Well there’s three versions of this story: mine and yours and then the truth”.

Hypnotherapy helped me to explore the voracity of my truth, my feelings and my memories. It didn’t reveal that I was Cleopatra in a previous life, but it did provide the insight into my own behaviour that enabled me to come to terms with my experiences, and live with the person who emerged from those experiences with higher levels of self-compassion and understanding.

Whether it is a genuinely helpful therapy, or a load of old bunkum, I believe that hypnotherapy must be measured on the impact it has on individual clients and if the client experiences real, tangible benefits then I’d say it is money and time well spent. It must be stressed that I am not an expert in hypnotherapy, so all of what I have written is my own personal point of view.

My version of the truth, if you will.

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G is for Grammar

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OK, so I’m a pedant, and I don’t care who knows it. The funny thing is that when I was at school we weren’t really taught grammar, well at least not that I recall. So I can recognise when a sentence isn’t fully formed, but I’m not sure I can always explain why in ways that an English teacher would approve of.

What I do remember are the little mantras that we used to memorise at school: ‘i before e, except after c’ is very useful when you’re trying to work out how to spell a new word, and you just need to learn the exceptions. Simple.

Things that drive me mad, in no particular order:-

  • their/they’re/there;
  • could of, would of, should of;
  • apostrophes used for plurals;
  • Xtra, Valu, Xmas;
  • and actually, too many things to list.

My friend Emma and I spend a good deal of our time photographing grammatical abominations and sending them to each other. We can feel smug because we would never make such rookie errors (this on the night when I posted on Facebook about my other blog, and my laptop autocorrected a typo that should have said ‘back stage pass’ to ‘bag stage pass’. It was only when Stu pointed it out that I realised). If there’s one thing I hate it* is not spotting my own typos or grammatical lapses. Fortunately I have several like-minded friends who will spot them and point them out!

Some say that good grammar is becoming obsolete, and that knowing where to put an apostrophe or how to use plurals properly or how to spell accurately will soon be skills that are unnecessary in the workforce. English is an evolving language: new words come into the vernacular and old words lose their place as the world changes. Who remembers what a telex was, has antimacassars in their house, or calls that long plastic rectangular thing for measuring lines a rule rather than a ruler?

Maybe I am being snobbish but I come from an era when being able to express oneself fluently in writing with well drafted, properly punctuated sentences marked a person out as someone who had achieved a certain level of education. Being able to read and write fluently was a very basic skill: despite the wild and wacky teaching methods that have been introduced over the years of our education, we mostly managed to leave school being able to communicate effectively. Whereas if we believe all we read and hear, children nowadays are leaving school unable to demonstrate even the most basic literacy skills.

Perhaps if we taught them text language instead of trying to teach the intricacies and inconsistencies of the English language we would have a generation of young people who could communicate more effectively. Maybe if we did away with the need to punctuate or use apostrophes, we would enable our children and young people to be seen as academically successful, thereby raising a whole generation who feel confident to operate within society because they would have higher self-esteem and a sense of self-worth.

Our children are the most tested and examined in the world** and yet we do not score well in the international league tables in terms of literacy. Are we labelling those children who find it difficult to read and write well as ‘failures’, thus reducing their life chances? Maybe removing the burden of learning how to spell well would release our children’s creative juices, and enable them to concentrate on big ideas, and setting themselves challenges so that they can develop an innovative approach to problem solving.

Who knows? It would be a brave Secretary of State for Education who would stand up in the House of Commons and declare an end to the need to teach children to read and write well.    There have to be benchmarks against which our skills can be measured, provided they are realistic and appropriate, and that these measurements are taken at the right times in the educational lifetime of our children and young people. So long as the way our tests are administered and the results reported supports our children and young people to develop good academic skills in a supportive, nurturing environment, then I believe learning how to use proper grammar and punctuation should be a basic skill that all children are entitled to achieve. So long as we don’t use a person’s inability to use their/they’re/there in the right context to write them off as ill-educated and ignorant, then I see no problem with continuing to strive for a high standard of written communication***, including knowing when to use a semi-colon or when (not) to use an ampersand.

So until we reach the Brave New World when grammar doesn’t matter, I’ll continue to work to abolish apostrophe abuse and will indulge my pedantry in photographic form. I shall leave you with some of my man-made favourites:

And my all-time auto-correct fail:

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*Thanks Stu for spotting another error. I wish I could say it was deliberate…

**I probably made this up.

***Obviously I am not talking here about children, young people and adults who have a learning disability (whether diagnosed or not). We should strive to identify these difficulties as early as possible in a child’s academic career and work tirelessly to ensure that they receive the right kind of support. Sadly I come across more people than you might think who are only diagnosed with dyslexia in their 20s, 30s or 40s, after a lifetime of thinking they are just a bit thick. This is no way to run an educational system.

 

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F is for Friendship

I’ve never been over-endowed with friends. I wasn’t popular in school, and nor was I keen to be with the ‘cool’ girls who looked at those outside their circle as if they were something on the soles of their shoes. I was always much more at home in small circles of people I could trust, who I could be silly with and not live in fear of being judged and found wanting.

I suppose it has continued that way: I’m more comfortable in small social groups and in any case I tend to put up barriers between me and the rest of the world. So if I let you through then you must be pretty special. I haven’t always known that I do this, but the older I get the more insights I have developed into my own behaviour, and how it impacts on others.

Emma and I have talked at length about the nature of friendships, and the fact that we have different relationships with different people – that they fulfil different needs and have a different place in our lives. I think I’m good at listening and (if needed) providing good advice and support when my friends are going through a difficult patch or have a niggling worry about something. I’m not always so good at telling my friends about what is worrying me, and I know that some of my friends find this difficult to deal with. I touched on this briefly in a previous blog, so I’m not going to dwell on this too much.

Some people get that about me, and just let me know that they’re ready to listen if I want them to. Others don’t, and wish I would open up a bit (much) more than I do and that can make me feel guilty because then I get the idea that they feel I don’t trust them. As I said in that earlier blog, this isn’t about the quality of my relationships with each individual, it is just about me and the way I have grown up.

I’m also not very good at keeping in touch with people. I don’t like talking on the ‘phone, and I tend to get wrapped up in my every day life that I can appear to go ‘off grid’ and again, some people get this and others don’t. This is probably why I’ll never be able to give up Facebook completely: hand on heart I know that I wouldn’t keep in touch with half the people in my life without that online contact. It isn’t about how much I like or feel emotionally involved with the other person, it is just an organisational thing. Perhaps it is all part of the emotional wall I build around myself to prevent myself from getting hurt?

I count myself very fortunate to have the few very close friends who I know will always be there for me if I need them, and for the wider circle of friends whose lives intertwine with mine depending on the context in which we know one another. I have been fortunate to have met and worked with a diverse range of people in different capacities, and so my friendship circles are spread fairly widely. I especially cherish those friends who I might not see very often, but when we get together it feels as if we saw each other only yesterday. Those friendships are built on such strong foundations that they are able to withstand separation in time and distance and yet can still nourish and enhance your life.

Reading this, I wonder why anyone would want to be my friend, actually. One of the people I follow on twitter the other day said she was working on trying to feel like the person people described when they spoke about her. I really relate to this: I know that low self-esteem is one of my demons and the problem with this is that it makes you feel unworthy of the friendship offered by others.  My childhood instilled in me the need to keep the peace, not upset people and be compliant so that awkward or emotionally charged experiences would be minimised or avoided altogether. I know that this makes it difficult for me to express anger or to make my feelings clear and this itself can lead to misunderstandings and sometimes my lack of objection can be seen as agreement. In the past this has made me vulnerable, and so I am working on being more open and straightforward, and the older I get, the easier it is for me to turn down invitations or requests without feeling the need to justify myself.

I remember when the children would say ‘so and so won’t play with me’ I would explain that not everyone gets on with everyone all the time, and that there will be people you like and people you don’t like. Simply getting along with people is a skill that can be learned, and these skills in turn help to form nourishing, nurturing friendships that are properly deep and can last a lifetime, but that equally may only last a relatively short while. I’m very fortunate to have made some very close friendships that have endured, but also some relationships that were important for a period of my life, but were not meant to last forever. I’ve made online friendships that with people I’m yet to meet, and some of my online friendships that have turned into real-life connections.

Every one of these friends have made an impact on my life and changed me in some way or other: some for better, and I guess some for worse. Every one has taught me something about myself, and there’s no doubt that my life would be so much poorer without my friends.

The world is a very strange place at present: our old certainties have been swept away and we face a political landscape that seems fluid and relentlessly changing. It is our personal relationships that provide us with the grounding and stability to cope with such change, and at times like these friends who make us feel OK with who we are are the best inoculation against the hateful way we humans are treating each other just now.

 

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E is for Education

I’m not really sure I know where to begin. I’m an educator, and I believe that our education system should fit around the children it is working to support rather than making children fit into our education system.

Earlier today I saw a report that teachers do more unpaid overtime of any of the professions: yes, even with the long weeks of holidays, and the perception that they start work at nine and go home at 3.30 every day. Whilst teachers used to be held in high esteem within their communities, nowadays they are scrutinised and criticised and set up to fail.

Today I also read a heartfelt letter from a Head Teacher to the parents of the children whose Sats results have just been published. He is heartbroken because he feels that the goals set for children by the Government are unattainable for many, and so society is writing off children that would previously have been seen to be doing well.

Yet the students I work with continually demonstrate their commitment and drive to promote the best outcomes for the children they support in their schools and settings, and their willingness to go the extra mile to ensure a child’s needs are identified and met. They work hard to achieve their degrees whilst working, whilst bringing up their families and managing their homes whilst trying their hardest to improve their academic skills. Many have not had the best experiences of education, yet they are determined to provide high quality education and care for their children, because they know that what happens in the very early years of a child’s life is crucial to their development.

In our struggle to become good educators we have to challenge our core beliefs, our prejudices and our notions of our own importance in terms of approaches, systems and the curricular influences we deem suitable. We need to reflect deeply on what we do, and on our failures and our successes. It can be a bloody brutal business: we devote years of our lives to training, qualifying and practising. We invest so much physical and emotional energy into being the best teachers we can be so that it hurts when we are criticised, or when we feel we have fallen short of the high standards we set ourselves. Indeed when we believe the Government (and therefore Ofsted) are implementing policies that set the achievement bar at an unachievable and unrealistic height, we feel betrayed and angry.

Someone once asked me during a show around at my nursery how we prevented ourselves from becoming attached to the children we cared for. Rather glibly I replied that we couldn’t possibly do that: in fact, it was our attachments to the children that made us good at what we did. Years later, I still stand by that, and it doesn’t matter how old the learners are, or whether they are A* students or if they are struggling. Whether they appear to be timid and shy or arrogant and opinionated, our students stay with us far longer than the period of their course of study. We will have students who make us proud of what they have achieved, and those who we know could have achieved more. We will have students who we feel we never really ‘got’ and those who we understood only too well. The fact is that we will have learned something from every small child or adult we have taught, and as educators we reflect on what our students have taught us, we assimilate that new learning and we start again afresh with the next cohort, these experiences having added to our armoury of skills, ways of thinking and responding.

So long as we have the drive to raise standards, the will to improve outcomes for our children and the belief that we can make a real difference we will struggle on: not perfect, but always striving to get a little bit closer to our ideal of the perfect teacher. However once the ever-mounting pressure applied by the Government and the ‘red tape’ of the educational system robs us of our self-esteem and our belief in our own abilities, we will give it up as a bad job and go and work in Tesco.

We’ll still be educators though. You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but they’ll take a little bit of their students with them wherever they go.

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D is for Dr Martens

I’ve never been one for shoes: for many years I owned one pair of shoes at a time, often not suitable for the weather conditions. Then, one day I admired a student’s bright red DM boots and said I wish I was brave enough to wear something similar. She told me that they came from OFFICE and that I should get myself some.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Kal, Jen and I were at SouthseaFest which basically takes place in loads of small venues up and down the main street, and all the shops stay open. I popped into a vintage shop and spotted a pair of purple soft leather pair, but they didn’t fit. I talked to Jen about it later, and thought no more of it. Until sometime later these beauties turned up on my doorstep:

Purple DMs

So Jen had obviously been on a fact finding mission: completely unnoticed by me, but resulting in Kal buying me my first pair of DMs.

Over time I’ve been adding to my collection:

The red, white and blue dotty shoes were another complete surprise, courtesy of Kal. I’d organised a surprise party for Martin Cox’s birthday, and then I had the tables turned when suddenly Kal presented me with a box and a cake! She had organised my chums to buying the shoes for me as a birthday gift, and I was taken aback, but delighted.

Although, funny story really. My family are less than impressed with my taste in shoes, and so I’d added the spotty shoes onto my Amazon Christmas list as a bit of a joke because I knew no-one would buy them for me, but in any case I didn’t think I’d ever be brave enough to wear them. And so I forgot all about them until Kal presented me with them that night in the Old Queen’s Head. So the joke was kind of on me, except that now they were mine, I had to be brave and wear them. Now they are the second most comfortable shoes I own: the beautiful purple crushed velvet ones, despite being a little worse for wear, are still the shoes I wear the most. They’ll always be my favourites.

Thanks again, Kal!

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C is for Chocolate

Well, it couldn’t really be anything else, could it?

Let’s get one thing straight. I have an addictive personality. So it is probably a good thing that I don’t drink much, and that alcohol isn’t the thing I turn to when I’m stressed, or unhappy. Because then I’d probably be an alcoholic.

Chocolate has been a lifelong companion, and one of the first things mum and I shared. I remember sitting on the top of the bus into town (she was a smoker and that’s the only place she could indulge her habit). There was an advert at the time that said something like “Bournville… for adults only!”, and I remember once, on bus back home, mum offered me a piece of her Bournville. I looked at her quizzically and said (at the top of my voice, naturally) “but Mummy! IT’S FOR ADULTS ONLY!” and then couldn’t understand why people were laughing. Didn’t stop me taking a bit of the offered chocolate though!

Mum’s absolute favourites were Black Magic: to a small child, even the name was full of mystery. There was something very special about her opening a new box of Black Magic: the cellophane wrapper was stiff and crinkly, and the smell as first the lid was opened and then the protective paper was lifted out of the box was intoxicating. It spoke of a pleasure so delicious and luxurious, and whilst I would cheerfully inhale a whole box within minutes, for mum it was a pleasure to savour. In fact, she could have an opened box of Black Magic in the cupboard for weeks: certainly not a feat I could accomplish. To me, she seemed superhuman in her ability to eke out her chocolate rations. Sadly I have to say it is a trait I haven’t inherited from her.

Whilst chocolate is the ultimate in comfort food, it also has a nasty dual personality. I still remember mum’s caution: a moment on the hips, a lifetime on the hips. And it has proved to be so: chocolate is my go-to weapon of self-destruction. I eat far, far too much of it and have the body to prove it. As anyone who struggles with their weight will tell you, fat is a complex issue: if it was just a matter of eating less and moving more, we’d all be a size 8. Food (and especially chocolate for me) is much more than just fuel. It can be a proxy for many things: self-esteem, happiness, positivity, wise counsel and stress relief.

Of course the effects are fleeting, and pretty soon you need another ‘fix’, and the more you have the more you want/need. Which makes it (I imagine) a bit like hard drugs: just easier (and cheaper?) to come by, and more socially acceptable in polite society.

Anyway. Must go. I’ve got a date with a plain chocolate Bounty Bar.

 

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B is for Blogging

I guess I’ve always been a writer: from angst-ridden poetry in times of heartbreak to doodles of words and phrases on the back of an envelope and with many an assignment in between. It is fair to say I’ve always suffered from a lack of word count: my mantra has always been ‘why use 100 words when a thousand would do?’ and as a student this was the biggest challenge I faced. On the upside, it has also made me very good at identifying where words are superfluous, and deciding what needs to be cut and what is crucial to save.

So I’m surprised I came late to blogging – of course it all goes back to Kal and the 50/50 list (of 50 new things to do before I turned 50). Recording that project on a blog was one of the 50 things, and I have to say that it has changed my life. From the original ‘Just Another Number’ blog there are a couple of spin offs (50 cocktails and 50 beards for Demii) but also this one for all the overspill that didn’t meet the ‘new’ criteria of the 50/50 (which has incidentally turned into the 60/60, obviously). I also have an unpublished blog because, although I try to be as honest as I can, there are some things that I’m not ready to unleash upon the world just yet.

So what is the appeal of blogging? For me it is about having space and time to record my thoughts, just for me and not with any thought that someone else is reading over my shoulder. Sometimes I share my blogs (especially when it relates to someone else’s ‘perfect gig’ choice, or to share their celebrations as they have tried something for the first time). For the most part, I just write away here (and there) and draw no attention to it. I’m not writing for approval, or to start a debate, I’m just writing for me. That’s why this blog is called ‘The View From Here’: it is just that. My own view of my life and my world, and how I respond to it.

The eagle eyed amongst you (whoever you are, reading this) is that earlier I mentioned an unpublished blog where I felt I could be more open and honest, and yet I literally just said that blogging is powerful for me because I’m not writing with the view that it will be read. If you know me, you’ll know I’m a mass of contradictions. A friend once gave me a little hanging ornament that said ‘don’t try to understand me, just love me’ and how apt that is!

So, to explain. When you share your fears and feelings with someone, you are apt to get any one of a few reactions: those who seek to allay your fears by saying ‘oh we all feel like that from time to time’ or ‘yes, I get that pain too’. Or there are those who tell you that what you need to do is go on this particular diet, or eat more (or less) of certain foods. Or the ones who tell you to put it out of your mind, because no good ever came of worrying. Whilst these responses are only borne from a need to help the other person, they are often counter productive. What these responses don’t take account of is that often you don’t want people to solve your problems. You just want someone to listen, empathise and be there until the fear subsides.

The other thing about sharing your feelings and fears with others is that you have to consider the likely impact on their emotions too. So now, writing this I’m worried that if any of my friends read it, they’ll be worried about what I’m worrying about. Other friends will perhaps be offended that I can’t share these innermost thoughts with them, but that makes it more about them than it is about me. Keeping my thoughts and worries to myself is about self-preservation rather than shutting other people out: this is how I’ve lived my life since I was a child and try as you might, there’s no changing me now! Also, once you say the words out loud there is an expectation that you should do something about them. By keeping them to myself it gives me time and space to reflect on my thoughts and my responses to events, and in most cases that’s enough for me to put things into perspective, and move on.

So, dear reader I’d conclude that blogging for me has become a constant in my life: I don’t do it every day (as you can tell because I completely missed yesterday, and this is supposed to be a project that I do every day!), but my blogs are there for me whenever I need them. My friends are also there whenever I need them, but I’d rather share experiences that involve tea and cake and other yummy food (and music) which do more to keep me sane happy than talking endlessly about the pain in my big toe, or whatever else I’m worried about.

Don’t be worried that I’m in the middle of a nervous breakdown: I’m not. Don’t be concerned that I’m overwhelmed with dark demons whose names I can’t mention: I’m not. Don’t be tempted to think I’m shutting you out because I don’t love you: I’m certainly not doing that either. I’m just here, wittering on about the trivialities of my life which, in the grand scheme of things are actually nothing to worry about.

Except maybe I’m a bit concerned that I’m a day behind in this project, and this B for Blogging should have been C for … well you’ll just need to be a bit more patient with me, I’m afraid.

 

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A-Z Blog project – A is for Archers

So I saw this thing a few months ago: apparently if you blogged every day for a month but not on Saturdays/Sundays (can’t remember which) you could write 26 blog posts which coincidentally is one for every letter of the alphabet. Like all those other times when I’ve said ‘that’s a good idea, I’ll try that’, I made a list of things to write about and then promptly forgot about it. I asked for suggestions for the missing letters, and even though I completed the list weeks ago, I kept remembering it in the middle of the month when you’re supposed to start on the first day of the month.

Since today is 1st July, I thought I’d give it a go. So, as the title says, ‘A’ is for Archers. The longest running radio soap on the planet. The kind of programme that, if you tell a bunch of Archers afficianados that you’ve been listening for 35 years, they’ll say ‘oh, not long then!’. I can’t remember when I started listening, and to be honest it doesn’t really matter. Generally one of the first things I do if I come in late from a night out is to catch up with that night’s episode which I’ll have missed. I listen every weeknight, and then to the Sunday omnibus. I speculate about what is going to happen to the characters, and I think about what their motivations are for acting the way they do. I celebrate their triumphs and I commiserate with their tragedies, and there have been many of both over the years.

The Archers has got a lot of stick lately for turning into ‘ArchEnders’ with it’s sensational domestic abuse storyline which has culminated in Helen Titchener stabbing her husband Rob after his initial apparent devotion to his wife turned into behaviour of the coercive controlling kind. However the Archers has never been afraid to cover the everyday controversies of life, major or minor: gay relationships (and subsequent infidelities); the vicar falling in love and marrying a Hindu; babies being born out of wedlock at a time when this was highly infra dig; armed robberies and hostage taking in the village shop. The list goes on and the village of Ambridge has had it all (and more) down the years: racist attacks, narrow minded bigotry, but also sacrifice and heroism. We listeners are as likely to get as worked up about skulduggery at the annual Flower and Produce Show as we are to fret about someone sending the boys round to rough up a love rival.

Given that this is the radio, all we have is what we hear: our imaginations make up the rest. We all have our mental image of what Lilian ‘make mine a large one, darling’ Bellamy looks like propped up against the bar of The Bull, or just how far in the air Lynda Snell’s nose rises as she sniffs in derision at some Grundy-induced abomination or other. And let’s not even think about what Sid and Jolene’s infamous shower scene might have looked like. I’m grateful that I couldn’t see Rob’s snarling face as he rained down yet more humiliation over Helen’s head, but I have to say those episodes sent chills down my spine and genuinely terrified me. I fear for little Henry as he will inevitably be brainwashed by Rob in the run up to Helen’s trial. Yet I have to keep hoping that Helen will ultimately triumph because surely the scriptwriters, having taken advice from Refuge thoughout this slow burning storyline, will not let the turning of Helen’s worm end in incarceration and victory for her abuser.

If that happens, I swear I will stop listening in protest. It matters little that my protest will last from the end of the Omnibus at 11.15 on Sunday until 7.02 on that night when I shall tune in to hear the fall out. I will have made my point and I hope the scriptwriters will consider the error of their ways.

In the meantime, if you’ve got any views on the health benefits of pastured eggs, or what colour tabards Susan will order for the Bridge Farm Shop, and whether Pip will sleep with Rex or Toby Fairbrother (or both), I’ll be glad to discuss your theories as if they were members of our family or our closest friends. Just don’t tell me that Roy should get back together with Kate because we all know that way madness lies.

The Archers. An everyday story of country folk. Definitely not to be confused with Walford.

 

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The black dog

Her head rests heavily in her hands, her elbows digging into her thighs, feet raised up on the low table at the foot of her bed.

She can feel her life draining away through the soles of her feet, dripping over the table and spreading out across the carpet like emulsion oozing from an upturned paint pot.

And her body, though it should be lighter as its very substance is ebbing away feels heavier and heavier which makes her feel as if she is falling backwards into her bed.

She feels her buttocks drilling down into her mattress, folding her body in two as some invisible force pulls her through the duvet and the sprung pockets and the rubbish gathering dust under her bed.

Soon only the tips of her toes will be visible, and pretty soon she will have disappeared from view entirely.

Of course she is aware that none of this is really happening, but somehow the idea brings her comfort, because she knows her disappearance will inoculate her from her anxieties and preoccupations.

Whilst she can hear the kettle boiling and the clink of a teaspoon in a mug and a low male voice droning on the radio, her brain has disconnected and she stops trying to make sense of what she’s hearing until it is merely white noise.

The day is beginning but not for her. She is a ghost: her family are getting on with their lives whilst she can only watch, yearning to reach out and feel the warmth of their hands in hers.

Yet she isn’t dead, not in the physical sense – she is merely absent. At this moment in time she is not in their lives and nor are they in hers. She has disconnected.

Sitting there on her bed, her hands by now struggling to support the weight of her head, she spots the black dog sniffing at her feet and she knows that if she remains, he will feast on the last vestiges of whatever optimism and energy that hasn’t seeped away.

She eyes him blankly and he stares back at her in a silent, insolent challenge. “You may get me yet” she thinks “but not today, not right now”.

She stands and walks out of the room, blinking as the bright winter sunlight stings her eyes with its accusations of weakness and shame.

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